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I had a really difficult time writing this week’s post, because there is not just one type of woman leader, and I really wanted to write about the evils of women leadership, so I decided to generalize and not discuss any of my leaders in particular. I do want to talk about all the ‘bad’ things we see come out in women who become leaders, and how that can impact others around them. Hopefully, this can bring some awareness and discussion to the women who strive to become leaders! Maybe I just want to start a discussion so that women will start noticing other women.
This is a topic that is very complex and would require a psychology degree and perusal of a myriad of books on women leaders. I am sure that a life-time could be spent discussing women in leadership and why we behave the way we do! I find the topic absolutely fascinating.
As a woman, generally I like other women. In fact, I am an advocate for women to get ahead in our society; to move up in leadership positions, to be entrepreneurs, to study in math and science, to work in construction, to be crime reporters and sports broadcasters, and to move out of the stereo-typical mold that society has placed us in for the last several thousand years before we were something more than the property of a man. But I am also an advocate for a woman to stay at home and raise her kids without any judgment, if that is what she wants to do! I will be the first person to give another woman a hand up in her quest to pull herself out of judgment and oppression, to rise above and lead others in a purposeful quest, whether it be in the boardroom, politics, PTA, as an entrepreneur, or a mother! Triumph! Success! Greatness! And, alas, drama.
Over the past thirty-odd years that I have been in the working world, I have had both male and female leaders. Mostly female in fact. Out of about twenty leaders, twelve have been females. Overall, my experience has been that women seem to feel that they have something to prove. Maybe not all of them, but a good majority that I have dealt with want to appear to be stronger, fiercer, more intelligent, and (weird) better dressers or prettier or richer, than not just the men they work with, but the women as well.
After watching the “I am Fishead Are Corporate Leaders Egotistical Psychopaths” documentary with commentary from Dr. Hare, and another wonderful documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom published in 2012, entitled ‘Miss Representation’ I have come to some realizations.
Not everyone aspires to leadership. Sure, most of us have some leadership qualities, but not everyone is inspired or motivated to be the person in charge. But those that are, may have some specific personality traits. Power-seeking, money-motivated, better than men, my worth is more than sexuality therefore, I will be less than sexual, disregard for traditional women’s role of family, children and home and possibly even a disdain for it, are some traits that I have clearly viewed in my personal experience with women leaders.
Perhaps the women leaders are justified in feeling this way. Observations tell me that other people do not often give women who strive to be leaders a fair shake. Before they even get started, they are labelled as ‘bitches’, ‘dykes’ (even if they are not gay), ‘overachievers’, ‘pant-wearers’ (what? I like pants, especially on cold days) and other unfortunate monikers perhaps more suitable to strip clubs and street corners.
The last organization I worked at had a mentoring program that I avidly participated in, believing that I could glean insight from leaders of the secrets and habits of their success. In this program, I met the most amazing mentors – I had one male mentor and one female.
The male mentor I chose to teach me specifically about oil sands mining and processing and to help me understand how the various groups in our organization relate to each other and work together. I felt this would help me understand the flow of the business. Although he was fabulous, this story is about women.
My female mentor was probably one of the most wonderful women I have ever met in my life, and I chose her specifically to teach me about the characteristics, behaviours and critical thinking required to be a leader – in particular a female leader. The most worthwhile thing that this woman taught me was that in any situation, you need to identify what is important and all the other flotsam and jetsam is just that – fluff that does not matter. This little bit of advice allowed me to work through issues without letting unimportant, unrelated topics take my time and attention away from the goal. She taught me that if the item does not add to the goal, then forget it and don’t worry about it; don’t let it bother you. In essence, do not take it personally; even if the item seems to be personally aimed at you! If there is no relativity to the important end goal, it does not matter. Ignore it, or at least, do not focus on it. This is a life lesson that I have been able to use over and over again.
This woman was nonjudgmental. But more than that, she helped me to put less judgment on myself, and feel like I was important. As a result, I grew more confident. She always approached situations with a purpose to identify the meaning and the goal; however, she was able to keep the human element in focus as well. People are important and should not be ‘trod on’ or their feelings ignored. Everything we do in the world is because of people, therefore, people should be considered. Think about that for a minute. You do not have to do what is best for everyone, but you do have to be fair, and you have to consider how a choice, change or decision affects people. She embodied everything that is considered womanly and at the same time corporate leadership, strength and prudence, the whole time maintaining class and I have no idea how it all happened! Women and men both admired her and held her on a pedestal without feeling threatened by her. She exuded confidence without the presence of arrogance, and had an aura that shone around her making you want to believe and follow any quest she led. I wish that more leaders could be like that. I wish that more women leaders could be like that, but alas, I have met very few. I hope you have had better luck.
Women leaders I have met often talk about each other behind their backs. They seem to secretly hope that another woman leader will fail or look stupid. Conversations I have had with my past female leaders make me think a good many of them are somewhat vindictive.
Some of the women leaders I have worked with were more direct than their male counterparts, and gave orders rather than a request. I have experienced women leaders who do not talk to me for days and only come to my desk when they want something. Sure, she will say please and thank you, but those are the polite attributes required for the conversation; no actual care went into that statement. Her relationship with me is one of conditional need, rather than collaboration toward a common goal. If she can use my skills to fulfill a need to jet her toward her goal, then she’ll talk to me. Otherwise, I am a tool in the cabinet, waiting for my next use. Not once, have I had a male leader who was like that.
I have seen some egregious behaviour from our women leaders. Using her leadership power to punish an employee a little more than required because she personally dislikes that person. Denying other women opportunities if they happen to have a family that may ‘get in the way’ of their responsibilities. Scheduling meetings during lunch and after hours to achieve her goals, without considering that perhaps priorities need to be pared back a bit if they are continuously spilling over normal work hours. Ending a relationship with a long-time friend of hers because now she is the leader and it may get in the way of her advancement.
Sheryl Sandberg told all of us perspective women leaders to ‘Lean In’. There has been a big movement in this area. More and more women are leaning into the table and participating in the conversation. Great! At a ‘Lean In’ group I attended, I spoke with one woman in her early thirties who was so proud of the work she had been doing to move forward in business stakeholder communications. Her work was being recognized and she felt her career was taking off. When she told us about her three small children at home, she became teary-eyed and visibly withdrawn, both her mood and her shoulders drooping. She was missing her time with these little angles, as she was working extensive hours and needed to rely on her husband and babysitters to raise her three beautiful daughters, so that she could become the well-rounded all-powerful woman that society demands us all to be. Ouch! Lean in, right?
Why do women leaders feel that they must prove they are better than men? Women leaders are just different and bring a different perspective. It is very true that women and men are extremely different, recall John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. But it’s a good thing that we are different, as we can balance the yin and yang of every situation.
We live in a very misogynistic world and the media often has an in-your-face honest and ugly way of showing us how society sees and treats women. This influences also how we, as women, treat ourselves and other women.
None of us is perfect. My Dad had a saying ‘No one is perfect, except for you and me. And sometimes I wonder about thee!’ This always made me laugh, but it is prudently true. We tend to see events from our own views, perspectives, morals, beliefs and actions. Everyone is different; no one is perfect; everyone, absolutely everyone makes mistakes.
*Psychopathy is a personality disorder where a person reacts to their surroundings without a conscience; the emotional connection is absent. There is a stunning lack of empathy. They have the ability to look at other people as mere objects, manipulating other people for their own ends.
Hmmm, sounds like some of the characteristics of a leader….
There is a fundamental mistake in this world in the belief that everyone else feels the same way that we do, but everyone can have a different perspective on the exact same situations, problems and motivations. In the ‘Fishead’ documentary, they identified that the Corporate Psychopath believes that with wealth, comes power. So, the leader is probably making a large sum of money, more than you as the peon, anyhow, and it makes them feel powerful.
67.5 Million North Americans have taken antidepressants like Valium and Prozac. These SSRIs (Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) change metabolism of serotonin in the brain, narrowing of emotional range and indifference to the social world. This affects simple human empathy, or can cause the lack of it.
Why is it important in society for people to blindly obey authority? Leadership begs us to give me your power and I will give you security (or the illusion there of). None of the rich guys made it big by being empathetic – why should someone who is on their way up the corporate ladder care about people?
Making extreme amounts of money can have an effect on leaders to want to devour more amounts of money. They have a desire to get it all and have it all – don’t we all? I mean, I would rather be rich for sure! Psychologically the limits can be removed and the mind goes for what it wants. Happiness is not what you get from ‘more’. When we long for something, our notion is that if we can get it, we will be happy, and society tells us if we cannot get it, then we are not successful.
No one who does ‘evil’ ever thinks that what they are doing is ‘evil’. It starts out small, just little things that only hurt one or two people, because it’s their own fault anyhow, isn’t it? Once you cross the small steps between good and evil, the steps get easier and easier until what you are doing is irrefutably evil.
From a very early age, most of us are told to mind our own business, and if the programming works, then we don’t want to get involved in bad things that are happening. We are all influenced by the actions and decisions of other people around us. A real leader in this world should be seeking power for all people, but it seems like most are self-serving seeking power only for themselves. How a leader treats me at work can have a ripple effect on how I treat the next people I encounter in my world.
Maybe women leaders are not any worse than men leaders, but society gives women a biased slant. Women in power are often seen in a negative light. Hillary Clinton was told ‘Iron my shirt’ and she was called a ‘bitch’ when she spoke forthright and strongly. A woman leader’s credentials are always questioned as if she cannot have earned anything of value on her own merit.
All of us have become numb to the subtly nefarious ways the media misrepresents women, putting them into a pigeon hole that is unfair. What are the consequences? Are the rest of us women questioning women leaders too harshly, judging them because we have an image of how women are supposed to behave?
Perhaps, as a woman, we should just stop criticizing women leaders, and have some empathy for them and the hurdles they are crossing for us, or perhaps… in spite of us. Yes, of course they are not going to do it right all the time, and sometimes not any of the time. This is new territory for women and we need to support each other to get through whatever we aspire to accomplish.
If women don’t stand up for each other, who else is going to do it?
*Items italicized and underlined are direct quotes from the documentary “I am Fishead Are Corporate Leaders Egotistical Psychopaths”
Question: What would you be willing to do for other women?